This is one in a suite of thirteen etchings entitled Blackness from Her Womb. The suite was produced in an edition of thirty of which the first twelve were bound as books, and the remaining eighteen were presented unbound in boxed portfolios made of hand-dyed parchment. Tate’s suite is number twenty-five, and is one of the portfolio versions. Each of the thirteen prints is signed by the artist. The project was designed and printed by master engraver Jacob Samuel.
Following the title page, the portfolio includes two pages each printed with two lines of text. These read: ‘Crows are calling/Blackness from her womb’, and ‘Valley of red/Wounded walls of tranquility’. In this way colour is registered as an important theme in the work before the images are encountered. The words link the womb with injury, darkness and foreboding, but also align it with the landscape, and evoke it as a refuge. Imagery relating to the female body and birth connect these prints to Kapoor’s earlier print portfolio entitled Wounds and Absent Objects 1998 (P78186–P78194).
In each of the prints that make up Blackness from Her Womb Kapoor combines the deep and resonant black characteristic of etching with one other colour. In P78612 the composition is dominated by an abstract form of brilliant yellow. Kapoor uses a duller yellow in two other prints in the series (P78608 and P78616) but reserves the luminous effects of bright yellow for this print. The partly geometric form at the centre of the composition seems to move upwards, emitting vertical beams of light. Set against its background of mottled yellow and black, the form has a three dimensional quality.
Known primarily as a sculptor, Kapoor first began producing prints in the late 1980s. He made the series Blackness from Her Womb in his own studio with a portable printmaking studio devised by Jacob Samuel, rather than having to transfer to a print workshop. The prints were made using a combination of etching techniques, specifically chine collé and aquatint. Kapoor had experience in the use of aquatint before working on Blackness from Her Womb, but here he employs a method new to him, called white ground aquatint, which Samuel taught him (email 21 August 2002 from Jacob Samuel to curator Helen Delaney, Tate Acquisition File.) This method of aquatint uses a ground of soap, rather than varnish. The very dark areas in Kapoor’s etchings are created with aquatint, and the coloured areas are those that have been stopped out on the plate. The soap solution allows him to achieve the effects of blending and blurring that characterise this group of etchings.
The colours used in Blackness from Her Womb derive from hand-made paper sourced in Japan. Samuel sent Kapoor monochrome proof prints of his designs, which Kapoor painted with watercolour. These colour samples were then sent on to Japan where Gampi paper was custom made in the colours the artist had selected.
Colour, for Kapoor, is often endowed with a symbolic, even mystical, significance in his works on paper and in three dimensions. The artist explains: ‘It’s always from colour to light. I’m interested in the other way round. From colour to darkness.’ (Quoted in Crone and Von Stosch p.24.) The uterine themes of Blackness from Her Womb are potent ones that Kapoor also invokes in many of his sculptural works. These include the hollow, ovoid sculpture Ishi’s Light 2003 (T12004), in which the artist creates a womb-like space with a deep, blackish-red interior. The image of the womb can also be related to the ‘void’ sculptures that Kapoor began producing from the early 1990s, and which are characterised by the use of blocks punctuated by empty recesses, and inverted, funnel-like forms that disappear into walls and floors. Kapoor has commented:
The void has many presences. Its presence as fear is towards the loss of self, from a non-object to a non-self. The idea of being somehow consumed by the object, or in the non-object, in the body, in the cave, in the womb, etc. I have always been drawn to a notion of fear, towards a sensation of vertigo, of falling, of being pulled inwards. This is a notion of the sublime which reverses the picture of union with light. This is an inversion, a sort of turning inside-out. This is a vision of darkness. Fear is a darkness, of which the eye is uncertain.
(Quoted in van Winkel, p.41.)
Rainer Crone and Alexandra Von Stosch, Anish Kapoor, Munich 2008.
Carmiel van Winkel, Anish Kapoor, trans. Beth O’Brien, exhibition catalogue, De Pont Foundation for Contemporary Art, Tilburg 1995.